Hanker - Web of faith 3.5/5

Reviewed: 8-12-05


1. Empower
2. Inside me
3. Stigmata
4. Let me out
5. Do or die
6. Between the devil and the deep blue sea
7. The search
8. Under cover of darkness
9. Face to face
10. Point of no return
11. The huntsman
12. Web of faith

After a 4 year absence from the scene, French Canadian true metal veterans Hanker have returned with their 4th opus, 'Web of faith'. Over time, Quebec's finest metal troupe have evolved from a good but quirky act with progressive overtones and a basement-level production ethic to a much more polished, professional and dangerous traditional metal beast. To my ears, their 2000 effort, 'Snakes and ladders', marked a real breakthrough for the band with a huge step forward in songwriting, cohesiveness of sound, and professionalism. That CD's lead track, "Ad patres", was one of my favorite songs during the year of its release, and the overall package garnered Hanker many favorable comparisons to the mighty Colorado metal machine, Jag Panzer, which is high praise indeed.

'Web of faith' sagely follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, both stylistically and in terms of quality. Once again, Hanker's formula for success revolves around straightforward, midtempo songwriting constructed on the backs of excellent traditional metal riffs and solos. The guitar work of Pascale Cliche and Patrick Garvel deserves special mention, inasmuch as they've delivered a stellar collection of top-shelf riffage and the occasional Hansen/Weikath inflected harmonies. Nearly every song draws the listener in immediately with a high-caliber riff destined to exercise the neck muscles as it exorcises the demons. Despite the high overall catchiness factor, it would be a mistake to lump Hanker in with the "happy European power metal" scene (so derisively tagged "tra la la" metal in certain nefarious corners of the Web). The music has a dark, aggressive vibe, perhaps because of the powerful bite to the guitars and the slightly acrid aftertaste to the vocals of Cliche. Band comparisons are tricky here, but once again I'd say that Hanker are most similar in approach to Jag Panzer, both in terms of the feel of the music and the general style. (Oh, and is it just me or is that first riff in "Under cover of darkness" eerily reminiscent of Panzer's "Shadow thief"?) That said, Hanker diverge from the Colorado heroes because of their much less flashy lead guitar player, their singer who foregoes many of the Tyrant's legendary vocal histrionics, and their propensity to pay homage to European conventions (double-bass parts, Helloweeny/Primal Fear harmonies) more frequently than do JFP. A comparison to Reviver might be appropriate too, but without the NWOBHM influence and variegated attack of the Dutchmen.

This CD is meat'n'potatoes heavy metal. It is solid, it is utterly dependable, and it is extremely professional in all areas, from musicianship to production (courtesy of a member of Canada's death/blast merchants Kataklysm) to songwriting. 'Web of faith' makes a great metallic soundtrack for doing just about anything. Nonetheless, don't expect this CD to knock you off your feet for 2 reasons. First, there is a certain lack of dynamics in the songwriting, with few twists and turns in terms of melodies, tempos, choruses or arrangements, which can tend to make the 61 minute affair run together as the band lock into a good midtempo riff and dish out the verse-chorus-solo-verse thing, then repeat the exercise. 2nd, singer Cliche is a bit of an acquired taste. I enjoy his clean, laid-back approach, but his range is unquestionably limited and some might long for a more fiery, revved-up vocal performance.

All told, I can't imagine anyone who enjoys 'Snakes and ladders', or any fan of well done guitar-driven traditional metal with European power metal influences not being thoroughly pleased with songs like "Empower", "The search", "Under cover of darkness", and "Stigmata". Even in these times of oversaturation of the traditional/true/power metal market, there will always be a prominent place in my regular CD rotation for an opus that covers all the bases as effectively as 'Web of faith' does. I strongly suspect there's room in your collection too.




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